Food in Mexico is delicious, and in and of itself a reason to visit the country. I have already been to Mexico three times – that’s how much I like it – and just the thought of tacos, pozole and tlayudas makes my mouth water.
Mexican cuisine is so good and varied that it’s been declared intangible heritage by UNESCO. Each Mexican state has its ingredients, its dishes, its traditions. Mexican markets are full of colors, flavors, people buzzing about. And what about Mexican street food? Well, don’t get me started on that!
Curious to discover what to eat in Mexico? Here is a summary of all the most popular Mexican dishes, and some tips on how to make the most of food in Mexico.
The Best Food In Mexico – All the Dishes You Should Try
Antojitos and Botanas
Ever-present on menus across the country, antojitos come in different sizes and forms. Antojo means “sudden craving,” and it can indicate snacks; appetizers (similar to tapas and pintxos in Spain) and even plain street food. Antojitos are always on the menu in Mexico.
Botanas is another word for snack and can refer to a dry snack coming out of a bag, or something more elaborate. They are eaten in-between meals, usually they are associated with sports events, and at times they can be quite filling.
Fried grasshoppers are a snack typical of Oaxaca state. They can be mixed with guacamole or eaten by themselves, and they are considered a fantastic accompaniment to Mezcal. If you visit the main market in Oaxaca, you’ll see many places selling them in massive bulks.
The Mexican equivalent to corn on the cob is elotes. Found on virtually every street corner in Mexico, it consists of either steamed, boiled or grilled corn, which can be eaten plain or with a number of dressings. Mexicans love it smothered with mayonnaise and green chili sauce, and then passed on crumbled cotija cheese. They top it off with chili sauce or powder for good measure. It’s not exactly light, but it’s so tasty!
Similar to Colombian arepas, they are two pieces of corn dough put together and then stuffed with pretty much anything you may possibly want – cheese most typically. They are then then grilled until the cheese melts. It’s a typical street food and oh so good.
Guacamole is probably the most famous Mexican appetizer. Found anywhere in the world, it reaches perfection in Mexico, where it is used as a topping for tacos in street food carts, or made to order at your table at fancy restaurants.
It is prepared by mashing ripe avocados with a fork. Green chopped tomatoes, chili, finely chopped onion, garlic and coriander are added to it, along with oil, salt and other seasonings. It’s usually served with totopos – fried corn tortilla chips.
Cactus is called nopal in Mexico – nopales is the plural. Mexicans eat the fruit as well as the leaves – raw in salads; boiled, steamed or even fried, used as a topping for tacos.
A very soft white bread roll without any real crust found all over Mexico. The name is also used to refer to a sandwich made by filling the roll with either shredded beef, chorizo or pork, fried potatoes, refried beans, grated cheese. The roll is then dipped in a red guajillo peppers sauce. It’s not exactly light, but it sure is tasty.
Among the best food in Mexico there are tamales, small balls made with corn dough – either plain or stuffed with pieces of chicken and pork. It’s wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks then steamed. The sweet version is stuffed with raisin and covered in sugar.
The dough of tlacoyos is similar to that of gorditas. They are made using a blue corn dough which is filled with beans, cheese, meat and then fried or grilled. They can be topped with all sorts of ingredients. A winning combination (to me at least) would be avocado, chili sauce and cheese. Originating from a place north of Mexico City, they can be found throughout the country.
A shoulder of beef cooked for such a long time that the meat ends up shredding, so moist and succulent it is. It’s a perfect filling for sandwiches and even tacos.
Chilaquiles are usually eaten for breakfast. They are made with leftover tortillas which are toasted or fried, then smothered with red or green sauce and topped with just about anything you can imagine – usually eggs, cheese and sometimes even chicken, refried beans and sour cream. They are guaranteed to keep you fueled for hours.
A large, dry chile pepper is stuffed with a mixture of beef and cheese (but you can also find a vegetarian version) and dipped in beaten eggs to be fried. It’s served with a thin tomato broth.
Chiles en nogada
A variation of chile relleno, chiles en nogada is a dish made with poblano peppers (peppers from the region of Puebla) filled with picadillo (a mixture of chopped meat, fruits and spices) and covered in a walnut and cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. According to legend, this dish was first served to Don Agustin de Iturbide, who fought for Mexican freedom and then became the Emperor of Mexico.
If you like pork, you really have to try this Mexican dish. Typical of the Yucatan Peninsula where the Mayan used to cook it in the pibil (underground and wrapped in banana leaves) but found across the country, this dish of slow roasted pork consists of pork meat marinated in anatto seeds cooked with oranges. It ends up becoming so soft that it shreds. Try it on tacos or tostadas.
Enchiladas are tortillas stuffed with all sorts of filling and then rolled and covered in sauce. The most famous are the enchiladas suizas (Swiss enchiladas) – where the reference to Switzerland probably refers to the copious use of dairy – semi-fried corn tortilla filled with chicken, covered in cheese, sauce, sour cream, and topped with onion slices. Expect to have nightmares after eating them – but I bet you’ll think it was worth it.
Another Mexican favorite, they are made of flour tortilla filled with a choice of ingredients (it can be beef, chicken or cheese) then rolled and deep fried until crispy. They are served with lettuce and more cheese.
Huevos (eggs) are found on Mexican tables for breakfast – less commonly now, perhaps. This dish has two eggs. One is covered in green sauce, one in red sauce. It is served with corn tortillas, totopos and grated cheese and on occasions it includes sour cream and even refried beans.
Typical of Veracruz, this dish consists of scrambled eggs wrapped in a tortilla and then covered in refried beans which at times may have beef or chorizo in it. They are then topped with sour cream.
Known around the world as “chocolate sauce,” there’s much more to mole than just cacao. The original recipe of mole remains a mystery. It has a whopping number of ingredients, which include chili, cacao, peanuts, spices and herbs. It’s usually poured over chicken, turkey or duck. There are two main versions: mole poblano, from Puebla, which is a deep red; and mole oaxaqueño, from Oaxaca, which is brown.
When I think of food in Mexico, the first dish that comes to my mind is this soup / stew. Found across the country, it’s typical of the Distrito Federal, Guerrero, Jalisco and Morelos. It’s made with large chunks of meat (usually pork) whole corn, lettuce, sliced radish, chopped onion, served with dry oregano or chili peppers. There is a vegan version made with zucchini flowers and mushrooms.
The Spanish word for cheese is queso. Quesadillas are the Mexican version of grilled cheese, but so much better! They are made with grilled corn tortillas with cheese and a choice of other fillings – anything from chorizo to mushroom, onion and even zucchini flowers.
Tacos are the epitome of street food. Small, soft corn tortillas are topped with meat – chorizo, but also beef or pork and, more rarely, chicken. They are then topped with pico de gallo – a salad made of finely chopped tomatoes, onion and coriander; chili, nopales, cabbage, guacamole and any other sauce you may possibly want.
The best tacos are the ones “al pastor,” which is literally the shawarma spit which – I bet you didn’t know this – was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants.
Known as “Oaxacan Pizza,” a tlayuda is a huge corn tortilla, spread with refried beans, guacamole or pieces of avocado, grated white cheese and topped with grilled meat (usually pork chops, but it can also be thin beef slices).
Arroz con leche
Arroz con leche, or rice with milk pudding, isn’t something you find only in Mexico – in fact, it’s a common dessert in many other countries. It’s made with rice cooked in milk and sugar, and topped with cinnamon power. You can find the ready-made version in all supermarkets, but the best is freshly made. It’s a great way to end a glorious Mexican meal.
Not a Mexican dessert per se, but definitely very popular in Mexico. They are made of a thick dough that is fried and then sprinkled with sugar. At times they are even topped with chocolate sauce.
Commonly found in Spain too, this dessert is made with a thick egg custard made with milk, egg yolks and sugar whisked and then cooked together and then cooled down and refrigerated. It’s served cold and topped with a caramel sauce.
Mexican food is best enjoyed with a Mexican drink. Beer is a local favorite, and you’ll often spot people drinking “gaseosa” – soft drinks (coke is a favorite). Mexicans love these sugary, gassy drinks, which are one of the main culprits of Mexico’s obesity problem.
It’s made with maize, sweetened with honey and topped with cocoa. Most of the time it’s meant to be drunk hot, but you can also get it cold.
This is the quintessential Mexican drink. Originally from the region of Oaxaca, mezcal is made with agave much like Tequila (which however originates from Jalisco). Go on a Mezcal tour to learn how it’s made and to buy the best kind.
This Mexican cocktail is prepared by mixing beer with lime juice, all sorts of sauces and spices, tomato juice, and chili peppers. It is served in a chilled glass which has been salt-rimmed.
Pulque isn’t easy to find, and chances are you’ll only see it during special events. It’s a drink made of the fermented sap of the maguey plant and honey. It looks a bit like milk, but it’s quite viscous and it tends to be sour.
No drink screams Mexico more than Tequila. Originating in Tequila, a small town in the State of Jalisco, it is only made with blue agave leaves. As the plants take forever to grow, and the regulations for producing real Tequila are quite strict (there has to be a minimum percentage of alcohol), proper Tequila is very expensive.
In North America people shot down tequila with salt and lemon. However, Mexicans enjoy their Tequila slowly and often munch on snacks such as chapulines or peanuts while drinking.
5 Tips To Find The Best Food In Mexico
Join a food tour
If you are unsure where to start when trying food in Mexico, you are probably better off joining a guided food tour. You can find tours in every city. I have selected the best for you:
- Mexico City food tour
- Colonia Roma food tour
- Mexico City half day market and street food tour
- Downtown Puerto Vallarta food tour
- Taco adventure evening food tour in Puerto Vallarta
- Cozumel food tour
- Merida street food walking tour
- Playa del Carmen food tour
Eat where the locals eat
The rule of thumb to eating good food anywhere in the world is to eat where the locals eat, and Mexico is no different. If you see a cart with a line of people waiting for their tacos, that’s probably a good place to stop. The same goes for the market – that’s where you’ll find the best and freshest options. Mexicans often eat at small eateries where for a real steal you’ll get a full meal, including drinks. Restaurants are usually for tourists.
TIP: La Popular, in Mexico City, is a favorite of locals and tourists alike. It’s often crowded, but the good news is that it’s open 24/7. It’s on Quinta Avenida.
Mind the hygiene
One thing you really want to be wary of when eating in Mexico is the hygienic conditions. A place that is crowded is less likely to serve you food that has been left sitting for days in the fridge and that may have gotten contaminated.
Mind the meat
Meat isn’t a dangerous food per se, but pork or chicken that aren’t fully cooked through are probably the worst things that you could eat and you guaranteed to give you food poisoning. Double check the pork in your tacos is cooked through before biting into them, and it if isn’t send it back and ask for a different one. The same goes for chicken.
Don’t fall for fake Mexican food
There is a huge difference between the food in Mexico and the Mexican food you’ll find outside of Mexico. Some of these dishes are actually tasty, but you will only find them at very touristy spots in Mexico. Stick to the real thing!
Burritos are only found at tourist restaurants in Mexico. They are flour tortilla filled with anything – beans, meat, rice and anything else and then wrapped. The only thing that may resemble a burrito in Mexico is a flauta.
Fajitas are made with thin slices of meat (usually beef, but also chicken) pan seared with peppers and onions and served on a hot dish, with a side of flour tortilla, sour cream, cheese and guacamole. It’s a typical Tex Mex food.
This is a non-Mexican Mexican food I actually love, but which Mexicans don’t really know about. It’s made with tortilla chips topped with spicy ground beef, jalapeno peppers, refried beans and cheese, then grilled and served with sour cream and guacamole.
Further Readings About Mexico
For more readings about Mexico, make sure to check out these posts:
- 12 Unmissable Things To Do In Yucatan
- The 13 Best Beaches In Mexico
- The Best Mexico Road Trip Itinerary
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico
Further Readings About International Cuisine
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